Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Desert Diaries - Epinepherine to Big Sur

After a great day skiing the Mt. Hood backcountry, I finally have the time and motivation to finish up the report on our month-long road trip through the desert southwest.  I’ve been home almost three weeks, and new memories of Cascade powder turns have started to push aside slightly older memories of sandstone walls.  Before the trip began, I knew in the back of my mind that we would be returning to Portland just as the ski season was ramping up, thinking that the anticipation of fresh snow might help my re-entry into the day-to-day.  Well, sure enough, it’s snow time!  So I better finish up the report on our trip so I can move on to colder and fluffier pursuits.

After six days at Indian Creek, we drove back to Moab to reload.  Our original plan was to head back to the Creek for two more days of climbing, but over breakfast at the Wake’N’Bake we pulled up a forecast, which called for cold, wet weather.  Vegas, on the other hand, looked sunny and warm.  Sin City here we come!

If you’re gonna do Vegas, you might as well do it right.  We Pricelined ourselves into a 4-star casino resort in North Vegas for $37/night – the Alliante! 

Kristin lounging at the Alliante
We pulled up, and the bellman unloaded garbage bags full of laundry, backpacks full of climbing gear, and a cooler with nappy leftover foodstuffs.  The valet looked at us with a frown as he took the keys and climbed into the car, which had a layer of desert dust covering the dash and half a dozen pairs of shoes behind the driver seat.  We laughed at ourselves as we strode through the lobby filled with porcelain, marble and glass, half expecting security to question our intentions.  The woman behind the counter grimaced a little and wrinkled her nose, but she honored our reservation.  A few minutes later, we were relaxing in our own personal suite.

The next morning, we walked out of the casino at 4:45 am with two packs full of climbing gear.  By 7 am, we were racked up at the base of Epinepherine, looking up at a 2000’ sandstone wall.  We had ten hours of daylight.  We decided to go light with one small pack, knowing that if we didn’t find the descent gully before dark we were going to suffer through a cold November bivy. 

For the next nine hours we shivered and shimmied our way up the chimneys and then climbed pitch after pitch of endless positive face holds.   

Looking back down the chimney on Epinepherine
At each belay, I would run some rough calculations in the back of my mind, wondering whether we were moving quickly enough.  We eventually topped out at 4:15 pm and managed to enjoy 30 seconds of warm evening light, our first of the day, before the sun dropped behind the ridge.  We had to move quickly. 

We scampered up to the ridge top and then spent the next 30-45 minutes deciphering the descent along the south ridge of Windy Peak.  In the fading light, we could just barely make out the large cairns that dotted the ridge line every several hundred feet.  Right at 5 pm, just as the darkness set in, we found the descent gully marked by more large cairns.  For the next two hours, we slowly crept along from one cairn to the next, feeling our way through the darkness towards the desert floor.  A 7 pm, we finally reached the car, both jazzed and worn out after a chilly, 13-hour push.  We stumbled back into the casino at 8:30 and slowly walked past banks of slots and the high roller room on the way to a hot bath.  By 10 pm, we were sipping wine and enjoying a 4-star Italian dinner by candlelight.  Yeah, Vegas is ok I guess. 

After a rest day, we drove to Big Sur, California, where we met up with a good friend from college to celebrate his birthday.  Our first night there, we enjoyed the most brilliant sunset of the trip, and Kristin and I reflected upon an amazing month of climbing and freedom.

Big Sur Sunset
Over the next 3 days, we enjoyed hikes on the Pacific coast, cold beers, bocci ball and memories of old times and good friends.  We couldn’t have asked for a better way to finish up the trip.  Thanks to Keith and Beth for the good times!  

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